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Senate scales back "'whiskey and wheaties" bill

Sen. Denise Grimsley’s effort to tear down the wall has morphed into moving the door. More than 100 people crowded into a Senate meeting room Wednesday when the Regulated Industries Committee considered a proposal ending a prohibition on grocery stores stocking liquor and spirits alongside beer and wine.

Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, fought back against an unfriendly amendment offered by Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican of Palm Harbor, that addressed a quirk in the 1930s law. The law requires grocers to have a separate outside entrance — actually a separate building for all intent and purpose — to the area where liquor and distilled spirits are sold. She accepted a strike-all amendment from Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, that scaled back the original proposal which would have allowed distilled spirits on grocers’ shelves to permitting an inside door connecting the grocery area with an adjoining package store.

The change apparently satisfied concerns about increasing children and minor’s access to alcohol if vendors were allowed to stock whiskey alongside cereal.

“The separation remains. You buy liquor only in the liquor store. You can buy groceries only in the grocery store,” Grimsley said of SB 468.

Retailers pushing for the change say they simply want a level playing field. Grocery stores are prohibited from selling liquor or spirits alongside beer and wine, like liquor stores can. They must have a separate store with a separate entrance from their main building. Such a separation is not imposed upon liquor stores.

“Do you believe will this increase the sale of alcohol in our state?” Sen. Aaron Bean asked about the amended proposal.

“I do not,” Grimsley said.

“Does it not make it more convenient to buy liquor?” said Bean, a Republican from Fernandina Beach.

“It does make it a little more convenient,” Grimsley said. “If I’m going to buy liquor I’m going to buy liquor.” Grimsley added that she does not buy liquor.

The committee approved the scaled-back version of the proposal on a 9-3 vote with several members saying they will withdraw their support if the measure is made any less restrictive than it already is. A spokesman for the National Federation of Independent Business said the organization remains opposed to the bill.

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